Why you do what you do


It’s that question a 4 year old will ask you again and again to every answer you give to their initial question. My question for you is do you know the answer?

People care more about WHY we do what we do, rather than WHAT we do. That was the key message I took from a coffee with Grant Leboff, author of Sticky Marketing (a great must read about why marketing has completely changed).

Devising a why is very simple. In essence it’s completing the following statement “We believe …”. From this follows what you need to do. Get people to buy into the why and the rest follows.


Having a clear WHY can be very powerful – it’s a great engagement tool. ” Yes I totally buy into that belief. How can I help? Tell me more?”. You can proactively find other organisations which might share that belief, or attract those who would like to be associated with it, to support you. Here is one I passed on a school notice board this morning.

Equally without a clear WHY you will be weaker. This can apply just as much for profit making companies as charities – lose sight of the why and the organisation loses its way. An example Grant gave of a WHY was Bill Gates vision of a ‘PC in every home’. Pretty radical in its time and a great why to drive the domination Microsoft achieved. And then when it achieved it Microsoft sort of lost its way.

Making money is not your mission

Making money is not a good enough why. Even businesses who have set that as their raison d’être have flounded. Profit making organisations which have had a social mission did better than when they focused on the money.  Businesses with a strong why do best.

Charities can lose their way too. The why, often at the root of a charity’s origin, gets lost all too easily. Without a clear why an organisation can drift. It focuses on the what. Marketing and fundraising messages then focus entirely on the what and the how and not the why (it might still raise the money but that’s missing the point if the money isn’t delivering on the why). You know when that happens when as a fundraiser you are asked to raise more money but no one can tell you why!

Check out your website – it probably says what you do, but does it say why you do want you do? Yet to put one in place is easy. And fundraisers probably more than any other role have the function of that 4 year old to ask the question – “Why? Why do we do what we do?”

Grant reminded me of this great TED talk (and the best use of a flip chart I have seen in TED) by Simon Sinek (author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action). It’s a compelling case especially for charities and non-profits.

So what’s your organisation’s why? Does it have one or do you know of a great example? If so let me know.

If you found this blog post  interesting check out Do you have a BHAG?

5 thoughts on “Why you do what you do

  1. The charity I work for (Action Foundation) exists to help marginalised and socially isolated people in Tyneside overcome their exclusion, particularly those who would otherwise fall through the net of existing support services. Currently we are still a small charity and our ‘why’ is still clear. However, it is easy to lose sight of the ‘why’ and your blog post has been a great reminder to stay focused and also to communicate this ‘why’ clearly to others.


    • Thanks for the comment, which gave me a thought. If you read your statement below to a 4 year old they might still say “why?”. i.e. why do you exist to help marginalised and socially isolated people etc. And when you answer that with a statement, ask “why?” again (as a 4 year old would!). It’s like stripping back an onion until you get to the core. You can tell you are close when you can put “We believe” …in front of your answer. You’ll know when you’ve got there. There is often a clue in how your charity started and looking Action Foundation’s website there seems to be a very powerful story behind why it all started. Thanks again for sharing.


  2. Pingback: Confessions of a fundraiser | ifundraiser

  3. Pingback: Confessions of a fundraiser | ifundraiser

  4. Pingback: Seven ways to get inspired as a fundraiser | ifundraiser blog

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